GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 29, 2012

Union 'SuperPAC' tactics draw state fire

Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — A union-backed super political action committee — or PAC — targeting Republican state lawmakers has raised the hackles of a right-leaning group, which claims the super PAC is a “super anonymous, super special interest, super PAC.”

The Mass Values Independent Expenditure PAC is expected to file its financial disclosures today, and those will show that it received $75,000 each from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, as well as $10,000 from SEIU Local 509, and $2,000 from MassEquality, the organization’s spokesman, Steve Crawford, told the State House News Service.

“We have nothing to hide,” Crawford told the News Service. He also acknowledged the group is a so-called super PAC, freed from normal PAC donation limits.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a right-leaning 501 (c) 4 non-profit group, has filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, claiming that Mass Values’ incorporation date of Sept. 28 – late in the election cycle — raised suspicions and made it a “stealth Super PAC.” The Massachusetts Democratic Party has filed an OCPF complaint against the Fiscal Alliance, claiming it’s operating as a political organization, not a nonprofit.

“They’re acting like a political action committee and they need to abide by those laws,” said Democratic party spokesman Kevin Franck. He also said, “They’re an organization that says they promote transparency but they won’t say who their donors are.”

Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney denied accusations that his group acted like a PAC, and said it did not coordinate with politicians.

“If you agree with us, we’ll talk to you. If you don’t agree with us, we’ll still talk to you. You know, we’re in the business of making friends,” said Craney, the former executive director of the Republican Party of the District of Columbia.

Cape Ann’s three State House lawmakers — Republican state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, the Gloucester Democrat who also represents Rockport and Essex, and Rep. Brad Hill, the Ipswich Republican who also represents the town of Manchester — are all running unopposed. That’s spared voters the level of state seat campaigning they’ve faced from all sides in both the Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren race for the U.S. Senate, and the bitter congressional race between incumbent democrat John Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei.

But in many state districts, including a number on the North Shore, House and Senate lawmakers are locked in intense races as Election Day nears, and that’s brought out some stepped-up campaign tactics.

Mass Values has targeted six freshman Republican representatives in its mailers: James Lyons Jr., R-Andover, George Ross, R-Attleboro, Steven Levy, R-Marlborough, Peter Durant, R-Spencer, and Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton.

One of the mailers depicted on the SuperPAC’s website shows a sick-looking young boy looking up at the camera with the message that the candidate “would let insurance companies limit his care,” referencing a Republican bill (H 4034) aimed at “reducing the healthcare burden on businesses.” The bill was sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means in June and has not emerged since.

“If you’re a progressive Democrat in this state, you should be pretty pissed off,” Craney said, referencing the progressive movement to amend the U.S. Constitution so that it disallows the limitless spending that super PACs have used to their advantage.

Asked whether he opposed super PACs in general, Craney said, “That’s up for discussion … Both parties on the federal level are guilty of taking advantage of super PACs.”

Craney said Mass Values was the first Massachusetts super PAC to target state legislative races. It’s not the first super PAC in the state, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who has been an outspoken proponent of stricter campaign finance laws, said large expenditures from special interests are nothing new in Massachusetts.

“I don’t think it’s anything new,” Eldridge said. “An advocacy organization, whether it’s a labor union or the political action committee for Raytheon, or the mutual fund industry, they’ve been able to do independent expenditures for quite some time.”

Eldridge also said he found few Republican allies in the effort to add disclosure requirements and to oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizen’s United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which paved the way for super PACs.

“I oppose super PAC spending,” said Eldridge. “(But) respectfully to some Republicans who have asked about it, they seem to suggest that Democrats should unilaterally disarm on this, and my response is, ‘No, we should change the law,’” he added, noting that he worked with Republican Tarr on the disclosure bill.

That measure passed the Senate unanimously and is now pending in the House Committee on Ways and Means — a panel that includes Ferrante.